Draft third edition of USA copyright office compendium – copyright for ideas, methods, facts

A work that has not been fixed is not protected by the Copyright Act and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, although it might be eligible for protection under state law. The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.

Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit. Similarly, the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.

The Office may register a literary, musical, graphic, or artistic description, explanation, or illustration of an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, provided that the work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship.

However, the registration would be limited to the copyrightable literary, musical, graphic, or artistic aspects of the work because copyright law does not give copyright owners any exclusive rights in the ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries described in their works.

As such, copyright owners do not have the right to prevent others from using the ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries or from implementing the procedures, processes, systems, or methods of operation described in such works.

If the U.S. Copyright Office determines that extending copyright protection to the author’s expression would effectively accord protection to the idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery itself, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim.

Facts are not copyrightable and cannot be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. For the same reason, theories, predictions, or conclusions that are asserted to be facts are uncopyrightable, even if the assertion of fact is erroneous or incorrect.

Although facts are not copyrightable, a work of authorship that contains factual information may be registered, provided that the work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship.